To save the reefs, fill your backpack with trash

Written by By Gigi Watson, CNN When the water opens up, it lifts the reef below, literally erasing it, capping off the damage. The phenomenon, known as blooming corals, happens as a result of…

To save the reefs, fill your backpack with trash

Written by By Gigi Watson, CNN

When the water opens up, it lifts the reef below, literally erasing it, capping off the damage. The phenomenon, known as blooming corals, happens as a result of a massive coral bleaching event. A reported 80% of corals have been killed.

The “extinction syndrome” has been recorded before, but the northern hemisphere isn’t seeing the full catastrophe Australia is experiencing.

It started last year, when the fish population was decimated. Next, animals that had hung around to feast on the fish and collect its eggs were wiped out.

“That was the really big issue,” said Wade Cooper, chair of Coral Research at James Cook University. “So far, the reefs have had a pretty good run. Every two or three years this could happen again.”

The outbreak of bleaching began when temperatures spiked during the late winter, with scientists, researchers and tourists watching in awe.

“Within a matter of weeks it was like the ocean had turned black, then white, then blue and green,” Cooper told CNN.

As the water level dropped, the water would freeze on one side, leaving it even colder and harder to breathe, he explained.

Hotter, drier weather continues to spread bleaching in the northern hemisphere

To prevent bleaching, the water needed more oxygen, which is “coming in just through the cracks,” said Cooper. The layer of dead coral will be buried and forgotten until the next time the water temperature spikes again.

“The only way we can cope with it is by cleaning it up. It’s essential that we do that. It would make us feel a lot better that we are helping to save the environment,” said Cooper.

Dead coral covered by trash

Some boats are clearing up the toxic mess the coral has left behind, but some are simply careless. The debris is blowing around and damaging the fish population, Cooper told CNN.

Boat owners are banned from dumping waste from Sydney to the northernmost west coast to keep the water clean, but the fines aren’t enforced, according to Cooper.

More than 85% of coral corals in the Great Barrier Reef are said to be dead or dying. Photo Credit: Gerritt.com

“Toxic stuff in the water kills the fish, but the people aren’t used to throwing garbage in the water,” said Cooper. “There is an enormous amount of rubbish that is just blowing around, and the fish can’t eat it.”

Organizations like Clean Up Australia have raised awareness on this issue by conducting island cleans. Collecting one rock can take a couple of hours, but those working will collect tonnes, said Michael Milliken, senior manager of corporate fundraising for Clean Up Australia.

“We’ve had such a huge amount of help from people around the world that we just can’t get it all done. There are all kinds of different initiatives, but none of them are able to replicate the scale of what we’ve had so far,” said Milliken.

The cleanup campaign has raised more than a million dollars, but only $50,000 has been used to clean up the debris, he added.

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